On July 1, about half a dozen terrorists had stormed a café in Dhaka in neighbouring Bangladesh and had taken hostage several of its customers for over 12 hours before killing at least 20 of them, including many foreigners. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS was reported to have claimed responsibility for the carnage. It would have been naïve to believe then that the rise of terrorism fuelled by religious fundamentalism was only a challenge for the Bangladesh government. As subsequent developments in the last 10 days indicate, the jihadi threat seems to be coming closer home.
It is not just the revelation of Islamist preacher Zakir Naik’s alleged role in inspiring the Dhaka attack (Mr Naik has denied that he had any role in encouraging the killing in the Bangladesh capital), there have also been recent reports of the police having taken into custody Indians for their alleged links to the ISIS. It is still not clear how many of these detentions will result in actual framing of charges in a court of law or conviction. But the trend is disturbing, to say the least. There are already reports that suggest that over a score of Indians have joined the ISIS, particularly from the southern states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala. Add to that the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani in the Kashmir valley by security forces and widespread protests, including violence leading to the death of at least 11 people in the region, the challenges from militancy and terrorism have become even more formidable.
At the outset, the government must make a clear distinction between the jihadi threat and the militancy that seems to be on the rise in Jammu and Kashmir. The two are different and the strategies for responding to them have to be different. Jihadi violence must be put down firmly. The government’s intelligence gathering must be beefed up so that pockets of possible ISIS influence in different parts of the country are kept under vigil. This will help the police to not only initiate proper action, but also take preventive steps to ward off any further spread of the ISIS’s influence in the country. It is surprising that the government did not act quickly enough in spite of its intelligence agencies’ reports of Mr Naik and his Islamic Research Foundation engaging in questionable activities such as broadcasting messages to draw young men to terrorist activities. A probe into the funding of Mr Naik’s organisation has now been ordered, but the government may rue its delayed response to his activities that went on without any clearances.
Developments in Jammu and Kashmir are far more serious and, therefore, deserve to be handled with greater sensitivity. The emergence of Wani, who belonged to an economically well-off family, signified the resumption of local participation in the militancy movement in Kashmir, a phenomenon that had virtually disappeared after the 1990s. Understandably, therefore, his death last week triggered widespread protests and violence, which may well mark a new phase of militancy and increased volatility in the region. Apart from sensitive handling of the situation, the government ought to tackle the issues that have given rise to renewed local participation in the militancy movement after more than two decades. A police response would not do. The new trend of home-grown militants from well-off homes reflects a deep sense of alienation that the government must recognise and address. Home-grown militancy is more dangerous than cross-border militant attacks inspired by Pakistan.